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Ark Baby Hardcover – March 1, 1998

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover; Ex-library edition (March 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0879518332
  • ISBN-13: 978-0879518332
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,110,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Liz Jensen's second novel, Ark Baby, is a dark, randy, and riotous romp back to the future featuring twin plot lines as tightly twisted as a double helix. The novel (if not the story) kicks into gear on New Year's Eve 1999 when a sudden, heavy rainfall over Britain signals the end of fertility on the Emerald Isle; with the turn of the millennium, every last specimen of British womanhood is rendered mysteriously barren. In the aftermath of this event, child-starved couples start turning to lower primates to satisfy their baby lust; enter veterinarian Bobby Sullivan, the hapless hero of Jensen's quirky meditation on evolution and survival of the fittest. After accidentally killing a client's beloved macaque monkey and being charged with murder, Bobby escapes to a remote northern seaside town called Thunder Spit and eventually gets involved with two, slightly hirsute twins whom he manages to impregnate--the first fertile women in England since the millennium.

Not content to chronicle Bobby's adventures in Thunder Spit circa 2000-something, Jensen weaves in the 19th-century adventures of foundling Tobias Phelps as counterpoint. Discovered abandoned in the Thunder Spit church by a childless vicar and his wife, Tobias is raised by the couple as their own, but his unusual appearance (squashed features, odd feet, hairy body) spur him to find his biological parents. As Bobby muddles towards 21st-century parenthood and Tobias gets tangled up in Victorian England's fascination with the theories of Darwin, the two plots begin to converge in a welter of diary entries, exotic recipes, strange artifacts, and curious coincidences. By the end of Ark Baby readers might well conclude that far from being "red in tooth and claw," Nature has one hell of a sense of humor.

From Kirkus Reviews

A grab bag of a story that offers a literate if self-conscious and scattered tour of Victorian grotesqueries as postmillennial Britain faces extinction. Second-novelist Jensen (Egg Dancing, not reviewed) moves from the coming millennium back to the Victorian period, and forward again, in an attempt to illuminate the many strange links between humans and their nearest primate kin. A torrential rain has caused a mysterious decline in fertility, and by 2005 it's clear that Britons will likely become extinct. Primates have become substitute infants, and when veterinarian Bobby Sullivan is accused of having murdered one (he insists that he was only following the orders of the jealous husband), the threat of prosecution sends him north to the remote seaside town of Thunder Spit, where all Jensen's narrative threads eventually converge. The author's version of the Victorian age here is populated with a crowd of odd or outright freakish individuals. The famous taxidermist Dr. Scrapie, of Thunder Spit, has been asked to mount an elaborate collection of stuffed animals for Queen Victoria. His wife, the ``Empress of Laudanum,'' has drug-induced visions of the future, and their giantess daughter, Violet, is a noted vegetarian cook. There's also a former slave-trader searching for animal specimens for the Queen and hoping, meanwhile, to figure out whether apes and humans can mateand who finds the last ``Gentleman Monkey'' in the wild and puts him in a cage with a captive ballerina. Meanwhile, the harried Bobby is attracted to Rose and Blanche, twins with unusual feet and body hair. Pregnant by Bobby, the two women, who turn out (of course) to be descendants of the gentleman monkey and the ballerina, via Violet, are the result of an ``evolutionary tangent''the sudden changes that speed up evolution and produce a new breed of humans. They are also, it seems, the mothers of a new race of Brits. Strained would-be satire, with its intellectual and narrative punch diluted by very obvious foreshadowing. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I picked up "Ark Baby" by Liz Jensen at a used bookstore, read the prologue & was instantly captivated. Needless to say, I walked out of that store with the book in hand. But seeing as how this paperback version did not have a backcover synopsis, I had absolutely no idea what I was about to read & was thus ever more curious. Ultimately, with every chapter I read, I became more & more enthralled by this book. I just finished it not ten minutes ago & I just had to log on & write a review. I found it intriguing; immensely funny; moving; complex, and incredibly well-written. A cross between "Geek Love" & "Skinny Legs and all" (By Katherine Dunn & Tom Robbins, respectively). I am very surprised that this book has not generated as much talk as other books have on certain bestseller lists. I highly recommend everyone to read this novel; you will surely not be disappointed.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jack on December 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
I cannot stop writing about this woman, this novel. It is every bit as rewarding as the other readers have said. Don't bother with well-pedigreed testimonials. Yes, the plotting is sublime, the dialog superb. But "Ark Baby" is synthesis, fusion. A new millennial rude beast is slouching towards - er, away, rather - from London. There hasn't been a female novelist, no one I've read - going on forty-odd years - of this magnitude. Jensen, with only a second work (I have not read her first) has excelled, exceeded my hopes. Over the years I've been willing, waiting. But male avatars ruled: Aristophanes, Cervantes, Swift, Kafka, Cortazar, Kawabata, and Poe, among many. A fantastically absurdist or peculiar plot, punctuated by comedic feasts -what is now deemed the novel of Black Humor - this was my Holy Grail. A particularly male quest? Maybe. No problem. Then Jensen blasts away such cherished delusions with "Ark Baby" - and damn-it-all - what a blessed event. Let us praise our now and future Queen. And so on and so forth. Moving on.... Personally, I found the plot-droplets on the novel's back compelling. But prof-scoffs here and there delight in detail, obssess with summary. Meanwhile you have not begun to feast. What have we here? A distaff Swiftian riff, a Mae-Westian romper-stomper treading lightly atop the famed "Stufenalter des Mannes" (the Ages of Man) - if you like, for openers. Will Self's recent "Great Apes" may come to mind (re: "influences"). But we won't find traces of his most pornographic long-windedness or scatological specialization on this terrain. Returning to sources of another sort may be in order. For example, the title "Art Baby" - perfect. A new Genesis, an elemental transformation has been conceived and proclaimed.Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Edelman TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 23, 2003
Format: Paperback
Ark Baby is a terribly witty social parody that manages to bring together disparate elements like Darwinism, taxidermy, slave ships, rural English chruches and a modern-day fertility crisis. Jensen has an ear for language and a wonderful talent for creating vivid, memorable and very unusual characters- like the hirsuite, red-headed twins who may be the saviors of British fertility. Stylisticly, "Ark Baby" reminds me more than a little of some of my favorite English authors with a sense of dark, comic irony; both Kingsley Amis and some of the later Aldous Huxley come to mind. Think Amis' "Lucky Jim" meets Huxley's "After Many a Summer Dies the Swan".
Jensen manages to develop two different plot threads, one contempory and one 19th Century, and then brings them together for a great finish that, while not entirely unexpected, still has a few twists and turns. I was a bit reminded of Thomas Powers, who often uses this technique to great effect. But unlike Powers, who often revelas sublte and unexpected connections between his plot threads, Jensen brings hers together in a massive collision, with great comic effect.
All in a all, a terrifically enjoyable and original book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mr. K. Mahoney on April 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
You only have to look at Matthew Kneale's Whitbread prize winning novel English Passengers to see that evolutionary theory combined with genetics is a hot topic for English writers at the moment. As Kneale proved, it is a subject ripe for wit and farce. Such is the tone of Liz Jensen's social satire, Ark Baby. Liz Jensen even mentions Gregor Mendel, the Czech Monk whose games with peas have recently been resurrected by Robin Marantz Henig in A Monk and Two Peas.
Bobby Sullivan is a vet who lives in a Britain where no babies have been born since the Millennium. He himself was born on the day Elvis died; a memorable date in history if ever there was one. Unbeknownst to him, Bobby Sullivan is going to play a quite considerable role in evolution. Trouble is, he has to get out of town first, since his mercy killing of a marriage has got him into a wee bit of trouble. Here, you begin to see the evolution of Liz Jensen's own creations: 'Giselle' previously appeared as a short story all of its own, and concerned the disposal of a dog, rather than a Macaque monkey. There's also an early sight of Jensen's next novel 'The Paper Eater' on page 102, when Bobby Sullivan muses that the fate of Britain may be to become a nuclear waste dumping ground (since there would be no one living there, due to the fertility crisis). The story also moves back in time, to the discovery of a curious small baby, abandoned in the church of Parson Phelps. The good priest, after giving what he thinks is a pig a good kick on the bottom, repents by taking the child in. The care given by the Parson and his wife means that Tobias Phelps (as they christen him), can recover from his injuries. But who is the strange, illiterate woman whose narrative interrupts the text?
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